Traditional Faroe Islands Boats, by Mike Jerrard

Traditional Faroe Islands Boats, by Mike Jerrard

Faroe Islands Whale Hunting

Culture vs. Conservation


(WARNING: A few of the photos in this story may prove too graphic for some readers, as they depict the reality of whale-hunting in the Faroe Islands. We feel it’s important to understand the nature of the Grindadrap, but we offer caution to anyone offended by such pictures.)


For those dedicated to animal advocacy, the annual Faroe Islands whale hunt– a practice known locally as the Grindadrap (a.k.a. the Grind)– has become an international outrage.


Hundreds of pilot whales are slaughtered every year on the shores of these Danish islands, which are located halfway between Norway and Iceland. In recent years the conservation community has been horrified, as the growing media circus circulates gruesome images from the bloody scene.


Though high-profile conservation organizations have rushed to the Faroe Islands to intervene, many volunteers arrive ill-equipped to operate a successful campaign, relying heavily on hype and rarely attempting to understand Faroese culture. But it’s only after we truly understand something that we can attempt to change it.



Creative Commons photo courtesy of


The Grindadrap is an annual opportunistic hunt for Pilot Whales in the Faroe Islands. It’s a non-commercial hunt: All the meat is distributed amongst the community as free food.


The Grind occurs when the whales are sighted close enough to land for boatsmen to drive them into the shores of shallow bays. Faroese animal welfare legislation stipulates that the whales must be killed quickly, with as little suffering as possible.



Creative Commons photo courtesy of


The whales are killed with a spinal lance, which is used to sever the spinal cord and cut off blood supply to the brain, which typically means a loss of consciousness and death within seconds.


The pilot whale is not an endangered species and, with an average of around 1,000 animals killed each year in the Faroe Islands, the practice is currently considered sustainable. But there have been no studies conducted on the consequences of wiping out whole pods of pilot whales, and the ongoing degradation of the global marine environment doesn’t seem to bode well for the future of any cetacean species.


Faroese People Sharing Their Catch, photo by Mike Jerrard

Faroese People Sharing Their Catch, photo by Mike Jerrard


Historically, the Faroese have relied on whale meat as a crucial part of their survival. Because they were severely isolated in the North Atlantic Sea, famine, failed harvests and trade monopolies made it vital that the Faroese were able to provide their own food.


Perhaps the modern continuation of the Grindadrap tradition is rooted in a desire to remain self-sufficient in the harsh Faroese environment. But nowadays there’s plenty of access to food through agriculture and foreign imports that the islanders wouldn’t need to worry about going hungry if they stopped hunting whales.


Faroe Islands Whale Hunt Spinal Lance

Whale Hunt Spinal Lance, photo by Mike Jerrard


“Nobody would starve if there was no Grind,” said Marna Frida Olsen, a Faroese environmentalist and editor of “But it is a question of attitude as well, because some people like to eat local. They feel like, ‘You want me to stop eating pilot whale meat, but then go to the supermarket to buy imported food instead?!’ I get their point. But I’m pretty sure most people here eat food from supermarkets. The new generation does not like to eat [whale meat], and they’re not as used to it as the older generation.”


Consumption of whale meat is beginning to decline in the Faroe Islands, and many families choose to refuse their share from the Grind. As agriculture thrives and alternate food sources become more readily accessible, the tradition is no longer necessary for survival. Nowadays, it seems to be continued more as an emotional attachment to Faroese cultural heritage.


Faroe Islands whale Bone

Whale Bone, photo by Mike Jerrard


Like most cetaceans, Pilot Whales accumulate high levels of heavy metals such as mercury in their bodies. So one reason the consumption of whale meat in the Faroe Islands has declined is due to well-documented concerns about the associated health risks.


In 2008, Faroe Islands Chief Medical Officer Debes Joensen and Pál Weihe of the Department of Public and Occupational Health recommended that pilot whales no longer be considered fit for human consumption due to the presence of DDT derivatives, PCBs and mercury in the meat. This recommendation came after research linking mercury intake with the high rate of Parkinson’s disease among the Faroese.


This recommendation sparked much debate among the locals, but the fact remains undisputed. “This is the main reason people have stopped eating it” says Rúni Nielsen, a food science advisor from the Faroe Islands. “And those who continue eating it don’t believe it.”


Faroe Islands Whale Jaw, photo by Mike Jerrard

Whale Jaw, photo by Mike Jerrard


To be clear, Green Global Travel does not condone the killing of Pilot Whales. We believe that what was once a cultural tradition necessary for survival is now an outdated practice, and an unnecessary loss of life considering the meat is not suitable for human consumption. We strongly believe in advocating for an end to the whale hunts.


The problem is that provocative anti-whaling activist campaigns (such as those mounted by Sea Shepherd)  have proven counterproductive, merely strengthening the desire of diehard Faroese nationalists to hold on to their cultural heritage. Activists insist that the Faroese are morally wrong to slaughter cetaceans, whalers take issues with outsiders trying to dictate how they should live or what they should eat, and the result is more polarization on the issue.


A Faroese Boy Post-Grind, Creative Commons photo courtesy of 5

A Faroese Boy Post-Grind, Creative Commons photo courtesy of 5


Horrific photos of blood-filled bays and children dancing upon whale carcasses are posted on news sites. The Faroese way of life is sensationalized, myths develop, and ill-informed outlets re-post hyperbolic narratives without checking facts. These stories and pictures go viral, shared by armchair activists who rant and rage about how the Faroese can sleep at night.


Unfortunately, most of these people stop there, never taking any sort of real action. Aggressive and accusatory statements plague social media: “I wish a tsunami would sweep over the islands”; “Blood thirsty murderers, the Faroese are barbarians”; “I hope they all die from eating toxic meat”; “Dirty sons of bitches. This disgusting island should rot in hell.” These sorts of overly emotional responses make finding solutions impossible.


Traditional Faroese Boats

Traditional Faroese Boats, bu Mike Jerrard


While Sea Shepherd campaigns in other parts of the world have proven highly successful, their aggressive approach against Japanese whalers operating illegally in the Antarctic doesn’t work in the Faroe Islands, where whaling remains legal (not to mention a historically important tradition).


Their willingness to break the law by interfering in the whale hunts has recently resulted in the discussion of a ban, which would prevent members of the organization from entering the country. It’s a shame, as the majority of Sea Shepherd volunteers who come to the Faroe Islands generally arrive with good intentions. But, in relying on  misinformation and media hype, many are ill-equipped to engage in the sort of reasoned diplomatic discourse that could help the whales in a positive, productive way.


Ginanes Village on Vagar Island

Sandavágur Village, photo by Mike Jerrard


“We are here, and unfortunately there are many Faroese people asking us, ‘Why are you here making war?'” said one member of the SSC land crew. “We’re not making war. I know that Sea Shepherd has an aggressive appeal, but this is a totally different situation to campaigns in Taiji and Antarctica, where whaling is against the law. In those situations, we were defending the law.”


“Think about what we show on TV, especially on Animal Planet [whose Whale Wars made Sea Shepherd famous], and remember that it’s a commercial production. Unfortunately, we see more of an audience if something dramatic happens; a tragedy, or something cruel. This gets more of an audience than saying, ‘Ok, we’re here, but nothing is going on.'”



Faroese Rescue Stranded Whale, photo courtesy Jen Rasmussen


Contrary to popular belief, I found the Faroese to be a very friendly people who actually welcome foreigners, and are willing to converse with those who show good intentions. They understand that other people’s opinions may differ, and are willing to discuss any issue openly and respectfully. Should they be presented with appropriately convincing arguments, many of them seem willing to change their ways.


Understandably, the Faroese as a people do not react well to being demonized or shamed by outsiders who have no interest in respectful dialogue. Propaganda and sensational stunts only further harm the cause, because bringing conflict to the islands makes it impossible for the Faroese to believe that you have good intentions.


Faroese Canoes

Faroese Boats, photo by Mike Jerrard


Having become swept up in a war of words and a desire to attack the character of the Faroese as a society, animal rights organizations such as Sea Shepherd have lost sight of their cause and forgotten about the whales they should be fighting to save.


“If you want us to stop killing whales, stop making us your enemies” says a Faroese local islander, quoted in a recent Op-Ed: From the Faroese Perspective. Confrontational approaches do nothing to further this cause, and name-calling has never once saved a single whale. Trade embargoes and tourism boycotts will not help. If you want the Faroe Islands to make friends with the whales, you must first make friends with the Faroese.


Killer Whales in Torshavan, Faroe Islands

Killer Whales in Torshavan, photo by Oli Horn


Organizations such as the New Zealand-based Earthrace Conservation Society recognize the problems inherent in the confrontational approach, and are working towards ending the Grind more peacefully.


“Realizing how much time needs to be spent raising awareness and educating fellow activists about delicate matters about the Grind and Faroe Islands culture can lead even the most hardened astray. Then again, we are tireless Vikings,” says Runi Nielsen, a Faroese representative at Earthrace.


They’re currently using open dialogue with the Faroese people to establish a whale-watching industry there, and are succeeding in convincing islanders to join their cause. Even those who support the Pilot Whale slaughter have high regard for conservationists like Ady Gil (who recently sued Sea Shepherd) and Pete Bethune, acknowledging their passion for whales, even though they don’t agree with their views that the annual slaughter should be stopped.



Gásadalur Waterfall, photo by Mike Jerald



The Faroe Islands rank among some of the most beautiful in the world. With their inspiring scenery, untamed nature and dramatic landscapes that take your breath away, the Faroes are simply unbelievable. There is great potential for ecotourism to transform the Faroese economy, and prove that whales should be celebrated instead of slaughtered.


Fortunately, attitudes among the Faroese are beginning to change. Though Pilot Whales are still hunted, other cetacean species are viewed with fascination rather than being seen as food. This, locals say, is the key to ending the Grindadrap once and for all.



Filming Whales in the Faroe Islands, courtesy of Jens Rasmussen


“People here definitely look at these whales as food. In this way, there is no difference between a Sheep, a Cow or a Pilot Whale,” says Marna Olsen. “But there are other whales which people enjoy, swimming with them, taking photos of them or filming them. Orcas, for example, used to be killed here, but are not anymore. People are not thinking of food when they look at a Killer Whale. It fascinates them, and they take pictures.”


So while many people call for a boycott of the Faroe Islands, promoting ecotourism here could actually be key to stopping the Grind. Working with the Faroese to support a whale-watching industry could change attitudes by providing an alternative form of economic relief.


Miðvágur Village, by Mike Jerrard

Miðvágur Village, by Mike Jerrard


International pressure will not stop the Grindadrap. The Faroe Islands have prospered while remaining isolated from the outside world for centuries, and will continue to do so if they must. A travel boycott is counterproductive: While tourism is beginning to play a larger role in the Faroese economy, it’s not a make or break element.


The Grind will only stop when the Faroese people want it to, requiring both sides to treat the delicate matter with mutual respect and understanding. The only way we, as animal rights advocates, can make a difference in stopping the annual slaughter is by promoting continued cooperation to change Faroese opinion.


But we have to understand that an entire culture will not change overnight. And you certainly cannot bully an entire society, or attempt to bend them to your will. There are many ways to expedite change, but only with the correct approach. Education is the key.  –Megan Jerrard; all Grind photos courtesy of



• For more information on pilot whales visit

• For more information on whaling in the Faroe Islands visit

For an update on the efforts of EarthRace Conservation to end the Faroese Grind peacefully visit

• The Faroe Islands cooperate internationally through the North Atlantic Marine Mammal Commissio – for more information visit

 Megan & Mike from Mapping Megan

Megan Jerrard is an Australian journalist, and the founder and Senior Editor of Mapping Megan, an award-winning adventure travel blog bringing you the latest in adventure travel from all over the globe.  With the main aim of inspiring others to embark on their own worldwide adventure, Megan and her photographer husband Mike believe travel has the potential to inspire change in people, and in turn inspire change in the world. They embraced travel as a lifestyle in 2007, and are dedicated to documenting their journey and observations through entertaining, candid articles and brilliant photography. Follow their journey on FacebookTwitterGoogle+, YouTubePinterest and Instagram.


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32 Responses to ECO NEWS: Faroe Islands Whale Hunting- Culture vs. Conservation

  • This was a very insightful article. I truly believe the younger generations will realize the importance of protecting our environment, especially the delicate balance of the sea. Of course there is value in listening and taking into account both sides of every issue and propaganda and slander are not the answer if you want to get through to anyone. I love whales of all species. I believe education through articles like this is doing a great service. Thanks for educating me on a part of the world I was not familiar with. You hear so much about the whale hunts in Iceland and Japan, but I know, being Canadian, that it happened here and in every country all over the world at one time or another. Traditions in culture are to be valued, but there’s got to be a balance to be found, a compromise to be reached.

    • Thankyou Kerry – I’m very glad you enjoyed the article. You are 100% correct in your analysis – the younger generations are in fact realizing the importance of protecting our environment, and the Faroe Islands are actually beginning to see a push from the younger generation to end the grind.

      As you rightly said, there has to be a balance – you can’t just expect someone to throw away a cultural tradition overnight. Thankyou for your insightful comment.
      Meg Jerrard recently posted..Gift Ideas For the World Traveler + $125 GIFT GIVEAWAY!My Profile

  • Kevin says:

    Excellent article. While I do not believe that the Grindadrap should be stopped by any conservation group, I do believe that the islanders will find ways to decrease the tradition throughout the next 30 years. These wonderful people are vikings and they are a people filled with pride and tradition and outsiders coming in with social media and a fighting attitude will fail every time.
    Kevin recently posted..Buffalo Bill Center Of The West Appoints First Female Firearms CuratorMy Profile

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  • Thanks Kevin – so glad the article resonated with you. I agree – the Grind will eventually end, though it will end though the Faroese deciding the tradition no longer has a place in their culture. It sickens me to see how violent outsiders can become with words against the Faroese – too many people are quick to judge without first educating themselves about the facts of a situation.
    Meg Jerrard recently posted..Understanding the Faroe Islands GrindadrapMy Profile

  • Kanin says:

    One small correction, if I may. Under the picture with the red church, the name of the village is Sandavágur and not “Ginanes”.

    Nice article, by the way, it gives me the hope there are still people there willing to get the right information. 😀

    • Thanks Kanin for the correction – I had taken photos of the signs of the villages names after each landmark shot, however must have mismatched my info here somewhere! The caption has been corrected 🙂

      And I’m glad you enjoyed the article Trying to get out as much truth about the situation as possible!
      Meg Jerrard recently posted..Understanding the Faroe Islands GrindadrapMy Profile

  • Really balanced article, Meg. On a subject as emotive as this, it must be difficult to maintain an impartial attitude. But you walked that particular tightrope with some style.
    Gran Canaria Local recently posted..Restaurante TehranMy Profile

  • Very interesting and educational post. We were unaware of this specific issue although we came across whaling in Norway. We have found that in general people do not respond to attacks, especially when it comes from outsiders who don’t entirely understand the situation. Living in Thailand as well as other countries has helped in realizing that changing from a hunting and exploiting culture to a conservation culture is a process and like most changes, it is painful and scary and often slower than we would like.
    I hope the lovely people of Faroe come to see whales (and all animals) differently. The scenic images in your post are very compelling – perhaps these islands will be our next trip. 🙂
    Ligeia and Mindy recently posted..The Surin Project – Helping Elephants by Improving the Lives of PeopleMy Profile

    • Thanks Ligeia and Mindy – I’m very glad we could introduce you to the issue via this post rather than first having read some of the more inflamed versions of the event elsewhere online.

      The Faroe ISlands are definitely some of the most naturally stunning we have ever traveled to, so I can highly recommend this as a fab destination for your next trip. Let me know if you need any tips or travel advice for your planning 🙂
      Meg Jerrard recently posted..5 Tips To Make You A Better Business TravelerMy Profile

  • Leigh says:

    This was a great article. There is never an easy solution to a problem like this and I agree that an attack is not the way to have any sort of healthy dialogue. Changing the social acceptability of eating whale meat is an educational matter and can’t be legislated. Respectful interaction on both sides is the only way to move forward. I would still love to visit the Faroe Islands.
    Leigh recently posted..Published: Discover Canada – 100 Inspiring Outdoor AdventuresMy Profile

  • Excellent handling of a very sensitive subject. Once we learn about a culture, we can stop making judgements.
    Wandering Educators recently posted..#StudyAbroadBecauseMy Profile

  • Magnus Petersson says:

    It should be mentioned that many Faroese takes offence by calling them “Danish islands”, they want to be refered to as Faroese only as thats their national identity. No offence, but some may not find it appropriate, most Faroese actually views themselves as a country of its own. What can be mentioned is that they are an autonomous and self-ruling overseas country within the Kingdom of Denmark, not that there are “Danish” or “Danes”. Just a friendly advice.

  • Lillie says:

    Such an interesting analysis of how tourism might actually help this upsetting problem. Thanks for raising awareness about this.
    Lillie recently posted..Join the White House #StudyAbroadBecause Movement!My Profile

  • Dan says:

    What an informative article! I love the quote “If you want us to stop killing whales, stop making us your enemies.” It is never helpful to demonize foreign cultures from abroad. The Faroe Islands seem like a magical place and Eco tourism would surely thrive here if given the chance.
    Dan recently posted..Capturing the Baroque Beauty of Ouro Preto – A Photo EssayMy Profile

  • Really insightful article that sheds a lot of light on this culture and the people. Knowledge is the key to understanding. It’s the only way. Good job!
    penny sadler recently posted..Saugerties Lighthouse Trail – Hudson Valley, New YorkMy Profile

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  • Viochita Fea says:

    I fail to see how pictures of children dancing in bloody upon dead whales creates a Myth. That, my dear, is called the truth. Do your research. Whales and dolphins are the second and third most intelligent species after human — way smarter than other great apes. These animals have their own societies and cultures. There is no rational way this Faroese atrocity is a myth.

    • I never seem to recall claiming that those photos are myth. The myths are when organizations decide it’s in their best interest to further their cause by intentionally spreading mistruth and lies such as “the grind is a tradition of manhood – a boy kills a whale and is then a man”. THAT is myth. And if you had read the article properly you would have realized that it is incredibly well researched, addresses many points from both sides of the debate, and that your comment here proves my point about too many people willing to jump on the bandwagon against the Faroese without having properly understood the issues. If you had bothered to read the article properly you would realize that there are in fact rational issues as to why the grind is still continued to this day, whether you agree with it or not.

      And re your photos of “children dancing upon dead bloody whales” – these scenes are only 1 part of the information you should be consuming to reach an informed opinion on the subject. You cannot make a decision solely off a photograph or video when you don’t have a clue as to what or why they’re doing so. Which is what you’re suggesting when you attempt to make one piece of media “speak for itself”.

      How about instead of saying let this video “speak for itself”, which implies we should base our opinions off one source, (I would like to think we are not so easily influenced, but hey, that’s why war propaganda worked so well) we say “let this video motivate me to find out WHY they’re doing what they do, and THEN I’ll make a decision as to where I stand.”

      Far too many people are yelling and screaming about how the Faroese can sleep at night based off these photographs without caring about taking any action to find out how.

      Please actually read articles fully in the future so that you can leave an informed comment which actually contributes to the discussion.
      Meg Jerrard recently posted..The Reasons Why You Should Consider a Cruise HolidayMy Profile

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